No it is not. It isn’t about your feelings. In case you were wondering and a lot of you were.
Before I get all the way into this, let me welcome my new readers. Welcome new readers. I post intermittently about a bunch of things that range in subject matter from knitting and my cat to activism and politics. Sometimes I write about all of those things at once.
I’m skilled like that.
So, welcome new readers. Hope you stick around. Some of you won’t and this post will be why. I’m OK with that. Please see the tag line of this blog. It’s true.
There has been a lot of comment on my previous post which is great. I welcome commentary. I also strongly advise that anyone who wants to debate with me read the rules of engagement. It’ll just make things easier for everyone.
One of the comment trends I’ve seen is people pointing out to me that Alt-right/racist groups are co-opting the safety pin.
This seems to come as a surprise to some people; the idea that those who hold the most vile of ideologies would attempt to corrupt this symbol of safety. I am not surprised.
Of course they are. Of course, white nationalists are attempting to devalue this symbolic gesture. That’s what they do. They co-opt our symbols, they co-opt our language, they co-opt the concept of bias and racism and paint themselves as the victims.That’s the only way they can get anywhere close to being taken seriously.
As Progressives it is our instinct to pause and take into account the thoughts and feelings of others. That’s part of what makes us Progressives, that ability to understand a plurality of ideas and see more than one opinion on an issue as valuable to one extent or another. I generally think this ability is a good thing, except when people try to use it to shoehorn concepts like “white genocide” onto a list of opinions and points-of-view that any rational person considers valuable.
I’m not linking to the definition of white genocide. Look it up.
Because some points-of-view are not valuable. Climate Change is real. There is no Tooth Fairy. And the concept of white people being subject to racism is laughable. You should laugh at it.
So yes, of course white nationalists are attempting to co-opt the safety pin movement. So what? Wear it anyway. Or don’t. Whatever.
The most common response to this revelation is “what will people think if they see me wearing a safety pin if racists are wearing it?”
To which I say, “who cares?” Seriously. Who cares what people think of you? Do you think that as someone who carries privilege marginalized people are going to see a ten cent pin and suddenly trust you? Do you think the pin is some magical talisman that negates your privilege?
It’s probably better for you to assume marginalized people aren’t going to trust your good intentions no matter what. Trusting good intentions and the better nature of the privileged is what got us here in the first place.
In fact, the idea that racists might see you wearing a pin and think you are actually on their side could be good. It could be the best possible weapon in a confrontation because when you step in and help the person being attacked the shock of your actions may rock the attacker further back on their heels thus giving you an opening to remove the marginalized person from the confrontation.
What other people think of you doesn’t matter. Helping people does. If you’re not in it to help, then wearing the safety pin isn’t about the marginalized, it’s about your ego. Your ego doesn’t matter. And if you’re suddenly feeling the urge to post your social justice CV in an effort to convince me that wearing the pin isn’t really about your ego, don’t. Because all you’ll be doing is proving it really is about your ego. Don’t wear the pin.
Because it’s not really about the pin either. It’s about the promise. It’s about recognizing that marginalized people are and have always been in danger. The election didn’t change that. The election didn’t embolden anyone. It didn’t make privileged people more bigoted or more aware and comfortable with their privilege. Nothing is different for the marginalized. Only one thing has changed.
Privileged people are noticing. Yes, the SPLC is saying that they have over 200 reports of violence against the marginalized since election night but the key word there is “reports.” They are tracking the data more closely and calling for submissions of incident accounts as a result of the election. But these things were happening before. They’ve always happened.
If you are among the marginalized, especially if you live on the intersection of several marginalized groups, the threat of verbal or physical attack is just something you live with every day.
When I see a vehicle full of white men I don’t think “OMG they might be Trump supporters!” I think “White men are statistically the most violent group in the US and that statistic rises sharply if you are only tracking bias crimes and domestic terrorism.” Because that is the nation in which I live. I don’t think white men might target me for violence because of Trump. I think they might target me for violence because they are white men and I’m neither of those things. That’s all it takes.
I am in no more danger now than I was on Monday, by which I mean I was always in danger. A safety pin doesn’t change that. It doesn’t make me feel safer. A safety pin is a symbol. If that symbol doesn’t carry with it a plan for action then it has no meaning. In which case, don’t wear the pin.
Let’s talk about this closet, y’all.
I don’t remember coming out of the closet. I know there was a moment when I said the words, “I’m bisexual,” for the first time, but I don’t know when that was. It’s been a while, let’s say, since I “came out” and I’ve been living out and out loud for at least a decade.
What I do remember, is the process of seeing the closet built around me.
When I was a little girl I recall watching an episode, every episode, of the Wonder Woman television show with Lynda Carter. That show actually went off the air when I was four, but through the magic of syndication I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every single moment of magic and Amazonian badassery.
When I was about five or six I turned to my mother during one episode and said “I want to marry her some day.”
Look at her. you’d want to marry her too.
My mother’s response was “No. You want to be her.”
OK well yes that too. But I really wanted to marry her. Because as little kid, it never occurred to me that wasn’t allowed.
I was bi. So I thought everyone else was bi too. Somehow I got it in my head that when you grew up and got married you would just decide on a gender to attach to. I don’t know, kid logic. Don’t ask me.
In that moment, when I was corrected on what I wanted and how I felt my eyes were opened and I started to really look around at the way other people treated the concept of bisexuality and the first nail went in to my closet.
Both the (admittedly few) gay people in my life and the straight people looked at bisexuality as if it were simply a stepping stone to being gay or straight, as if the only real, adult choices were on either side of the spectrum but nowhere in the middle.
Bisexuality was a punchline at best. And there was zero representation aside from the periodic predatory bi on television. There was another nail.
Being gay was vilified among my peer group and even the teachers joined in at the jokes told at the expense of the only gay teacher in my elementary school. More nails.
So I decided to be straight because that seemed easier.
Pssst…it’s not easier. I just thought it would be. I was wrong.
For at least 30 years I did my best to kill half of myself. That didn’t work, clearly but the attempt was still harmful.
Then at some point, which as I mentioned I don’t remember, I came out.
And you know what? Coming out did not magically make everything better. I was still in a relationship with an abusive narcissist. I still didn’t really know how to be in a good relationship. I didn’t know who I was.
All of that knowledge took a further ten years. And, you know, it’s still a work in progress.
So, what’s the point of all this?
The point is, coming out isn’t an ending. It’s not the solution to a problem, it’s the first step in problem solving. And it’s not a thing you do just one time. It becomes part of your life, like breathing.
If the closet is safer, then good. Stay safe. if coming out is the best choice then do that. But, we have to be equally supportive of both. If not, we’re failing as a community.
I wanted to love this series. I wanted it to be what Jessica Jones was for me; a feminist conversation and lesson. Except, you know, about Blackness. I wanted to see the iconic Black hero, doing what he does, being invulnerable and full of integrity while unapologetically Black. I wanted that. But I didn’t get it.
Instead I got the shell of that. Worse, I got, we all got a show that is pretending to be unapologetically pro-Black while actually reinforcing the worst kind of stereotypes. We deserve better.
Look, part of this can’t be helped. The source material is made of racist stereotypes. That’s just factual. A Black hero in the 1970s had no chance of being anything other than Blaxploitation and that’s pretty much all Power Man has ever been. The comic was racist. The villains were racist stereotypes just like the hero and the story was made of racist tropes. It’s generally not a great comic and has always been problematic. It’s just that, at the time, that was all we had. So we accepted it, bad as it was because representation matters.
But Marvel and Netflix had managed to make Daredevil not terrible and Jessica Jones really good, so believe me when I say I went into this show prepared to sing its praises like most other people are doing.
But I can’t.
Because this show is racist as hell and as I mentioned we deserve better.
It started out racist and it stayed racist the entire time.
Literally, the very first thing we see Luke do is blow off the darkest skinned femme protagonist, well non-antagonist, in the entire show who is hitting on him in front of her son, of course she has a son. Of course we can’t have a professional woman with sort of dark skin simply being awesome and owning her sexuality. Nope. There are whole levels of why she’s not attractive to him in the few scenes she has and they’re all centered on colorism and misogynoir.
But he hooks up with Misty Knight, who is lighter than the first woman, that same night.
And he ends up with the lightest woman.
Because, of course he does.
Let’s be clear, the “darkest” woman isn’t all that dark. Every woman in the show darker than her is a villain.
Luke himself is also a problem. He is the quintessential “good” Black man and a large part of the narrative presented as to what makes him good is that he is tame in the beginning. He is the most physically powerful Black human in the Marvel TV universe. He could be a costumed hero. Or, you know, not a costumed hero because all of his costumes are awful. But he could be anything. Except the person they created is properly diffident; head down, voice soft, eyes generally cast down. And no matter how good the fight scenes are, and they’re not actually that good, he is tamed in the end as well. The extremely powerful Black man is, in fact, caged as the resolution of the entire story arc.
To be fair, I will acknowledge the power of seeing a Black man in a dark hoodie walking through a hail of bullets but I also have to acknowledge that Luke Cage is, and has always been the embodiment of the unstoppable Black beast, a stereotype that regularly gets actual Black people killed.
A good writer would have used that contrast. They would have shown us the trap that Black people are forced into by the stereotypes used to dehumanize us. Black men are either rampaging monsters or properly emasculated. Women are either light, bright, and damn near white Mammies, dark Jezebels, or Sassy Sapphires like Black Mariah.
I will admit that Black Mariah is a vast improvement over her comic character but since her origin is an elephantine monster made of African American Vernacular English as filtered through white ears, that’s not saying much.
This show suffers the same issue that so much mainstream entertainment aimed at Black audiences suffers. It doesn’t examine or deconstruct White Supremacy. It just accepts its tropes and uses them to enforce its structure.
Luke Cage isn’t our superhero show. It’s a show about white fear. It’s a minstrel show.
Minstrel shows are offensive. Always. Doubly so because it is presented as for us, by us. We presume that our own people have our best interests at heart. This is forgivable, especially when the entertainment is advertised as if it is revolutionary or progressive or groundbreaking or anything other than more of the same.
For me, the biggest problem is the conversation on policing that happens throughout the show. The pro side of the self-policing argument is a white cop who turns out to be corrupt. The person he’s arguing with? Misty fucking Knight who is given the pro-police side. The inevitable police violence is perpetrated by a Black cop. The only person who steps forward to lead the community against police violence? Is Black Mariah who is doing so for her own reasons and advocates greater arming of the already militarized police.
The conversation is muddled and plodding and badly written as is the rest of the show.
And we deserve better.
We have to stop simply accepting anything that is served to us as long as the hand doing the serving is Black. Because all of our skinfolk ain’t our kinfolk. They don’t have our best interests at heart. Neither do they have any motivation to do their jobs well unless we motivate them.
We deserve superheroes who are heroes. We deserve Black entertainment free of the restrictions of White Supremacy and which fight the tropes systemic racism has trained into us. We deserve better than this and the absolutely worst thing we can do is embrace this show. because if we do, we’ll end up with more of the same and we’ll have no one but ourselves to blame.